The question “Where do you get ideas for a piece?” is periodically asked in this and other woodworking forums. The underlying questions is “What is the source of creativity? - and by implication - “How do I tap that source?”.
I believe the cliche - There’s nothing new under the sun. - with few exceptions, is true. I believe that creativity is a very rare thing - making something from nothing. I believe what is commonly called creativity is actually synthesisity - combining existing ideas and/or things in a way that they’ve not previously been combined. And synthesisity is not the sole domain of artists, inventors, scientists and great thinkers. I think synthesisity is built into all of us. It has to be, or humans would’ve gone extinct a long time ago.
The trick is learning to use what we’ve already got.
The following is a lathe turning example which hopefully illustrates how synthesisity works and how it can be mistaken for that elusive thing "creativity". Hopefully it will get someone who thinks they don't have The Gift to consider the possibility that they do - but aren't using it.
I’ve been playing with an idea that was triggered by a club demonstration, a rare, to everyone but me, mistake and a skew turning exercise.
Here are the elements for the synthesis of a piece that’s new - to me. (It’s probably been done a thousand times before - but I came up with this on my own)
I think it’s not a totally uncommon turner’s mistake - accidently cutting or sanding through the bottom of a bowl or hollowed form. The normal fix is to turn a plug to fit the unintentional hole, glue it in place then re-turn the piece to blend the two pieces of wood together visually. If you’re very careful, the resulting repair will go unnoticed by all but the really observant.
If you have been into turning for more than a month or two you’ve probably seen examples of mini or almost micro turnings - tiny chalices, little doll house sized bowls and vases, itty bitty spinning tops.
One of the exercises for learning to use a skew is to turn beads and balls. For the latter, you basically turn a ball on the end of a dowel then turn off the ball.
Turned lidded boxes require turning a lip on one part that fits snugly into the other part. The two parts are held together by friction.
Here’s the specifics.
After watching a club demonstration of small turning I tried my hand at turning small - three small bowls in olive - all about 1” O.D., maybe 3/8” to 1/2” tall - basically flat bottomed hemispheres. At that scale, a 3/16ths wall thickness looks really thick so I tried going thinner - 1/8th inch - and that was easy. So I went thinner on the next one - and turned through the bottom of the little bowl. This little thing was too small and too thin for a plug fix. For some reason I left it on my workbench.
The olive was pretty and I turned some large beads and drilled a hole through one - coincidently a that one was a little over 1” in diameter.
Now I had three very small hemispherical bowls, one with a big hole in the bottom, a sphere with a hole through it and a piece left in the chuck for the next bead - a dowel with a ball on the end.
Trying to fit the round bead inside one of the little bowls was impulsive - “Will this fit into that? A ball joint!” It didn’t fit - ball too big to fit all the way inside. Hmmm - a space between the inside of the bowl and the outside of the bead. What if I turned the ball that was in the chuck down and turn down the spigot to go through the hole in the bowl with the hole in the bottom? If the bead on the end of the dowel/spigot was inside the bowl and I glued the spigot into the bead with the hole through it - I’d have a captured articulated joint - a ball joint! A little more synthesisity and I’ve got a way to make an articulated chain of beads - for a bracelet, necklace, belt, . . .
Here are the elements ) bowl with hole in the bottom O-- ball on the end of a dowel/spigot (----) bead with a hole through it
Here’s the synthesisity 0)-- ball inside bowl with the hole in it, spigot through the hole 0)-(- ) ball inside bowel, spigot through the hole in the bowl, end of spigot in the hole in the bead AN ARTICULATED JOINT! --(OO)-(---) spigot through the hole in the bowl, ball inside the bowl, assembly glued to its mirror image whose spigot is glued into a bead with a hole through it. AN ARTICULATED “CHAIN”!
Since I’d already turned a bunch of turned lidded boxes with friction fit lids, it was a no brainer to join the two “ball socket” the same way. Lots easier than trying to glue two hemispheres together.
So there you have it - an example of serendipitous synthesisity - no creativity here. And anyone can do it - and many no doubt have come up with the idea used in this example.
Have you got an example of your synthesisity you’d be willing to share?